The chairman of one of China's largest conglomerates has died in an accident

GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

  • Wang Jian, chairman of Chinese conglomerate HNA dies in accident during French business trip.
  • The local police chief in the French region of Avignon said Jian fell 15 metres from a wall in a popular tourist area.
  • Jian was the architect of a debt-fueled global expansion strategy by HNA, but the company has recently been in the process of selling assets to pay back loans.

Wang Jian, the co-founder and chairman of one of China’s biggest conglomerates, HNA, has died during a business trip in France.

Jian, who was 57 years old, died in an accidental fall, the company said. The incident took place in the village of Bonnieux, near Avignon in South France. The local police chief told Reuters that Jian fell 15 metres off a wall.

Jian was a civil aviation official early in his career before helping to found Hainan Airlines in the early 1990s. Hainan then grew into a major conglomerate with interests in not only aviation but also real estate, financial services, tourism, and logistics.

The company’s website was changed to the colour grey on Wednesday morning as a gesture of respect.

Wang Jian was regarded as the driving force behind HNA’s aggressive global expansion strategy funded by high amounts of debt.

But along with other Chinese multinationals such as Anbang Insurance, the HNA Group has come under increased scrutiny from Chinese regulators in recent months as authorities clamp down on the buildup of excessive leverage in China’s financial system.

In March this year, HNA announced that it would be cutting 400,000 staff as part of moves to downsize its operations. The company was also having difficulty paying pack creditors and faced a $2.3 billion liquidity shortfall for the March quarter.

As part of efforts to meet its debt obligations, HNA Group sold two parcels of land in Hong Kong in a $US2 billion deal in February.

“HNA Group extends deepest condolences to Mr. Wang’s family and many friends,” HNA said in a statement.

“Together, we mourn the loss of an exceptionally gifted leader and role model, whose vision and values will continue to be a beacon for all who had the good fortune to know him, as well as for the many others whose lives he touched through his work and philanthropy.”

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